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Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Announces 2023 Official Selections, World Premieres


The official selections of the 20th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival were announced today by the Big Sky Film Institute. The milestone year features the second consecutive hybrid format for the festival, with nearly 150 nonfiction films screening in downtown Missoula, Montana, between February 17th and the 26th, with subsequent screenings in the festival’s virtual theater running from February 20 through March 1.

The 20th year lineup includes 51 features and 83 short documentary films including 41 World Premieres, 14 North American Premieres and 8 U.S. Premieres. Over 90% of the annual Big Sky program is selected from the festival's open call, which this season drew nearly 2,000 submissions from 81 nations. An exhibition of the transformative power of documentary storytelling, the 2023 selections explore revolutionary art, profound female strength, defiant politics, elder wisdom, stirring portraits, an environment in crisis, contemporary media literacy, and a globalized world in flux. 

“The documentary film landscape has changed immensely since we started Big Sky twenty years ago,” says Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Director of Programming Michael Workman. “Online streaming has led to a huge influx of capital into the field, and documentaries are watched more than ever before, making the field fiercely competitive. Nevertheless, filmmakers are working tirelessly to maintain their artistic integrity and get their work seen. The selections reflect Big Sky's commitment to media literacy and mission to promote documentary filmmaking as an artform. These films have a tenacious spirit of inventive storytelling from diverse voices. They are nuanced stories that explore the complexities of the human experience breaking through the black and white narratives that dominate our contemporary media landscape.”

The festival will also welcome award-winning filmmaker Penny Lane as the 2023 retrospective artist, featuring six films from her 10-year repertoire. A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Penny Lane’s body of work features innovative nonfiction shorts and features, including the witty and provocative LISTENING TO KENNY G, a humorous but incisive look at the best-selling sax virtuoso. Previous feature work includes Sundance 2018 favorite HAIL SATAN? recounting controversial religious movements; eccentric physician profile NUTS! which won the Special Jury Prize for Editing at Sundance 2016; and archival gem OUR NIXON which won the Ken Burns Award for “Best of the Festival” at Ann Arbor. In 2018 Penny was honored with the Vanguard Award at SF DocFest, a Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Award and was admitted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name.

In addition to open call selections, Big Sky will showcase IN THE MAKING Season 2, a documentary short series following the lives and journeys of emerging cultural icons who bring insight and originality to their artistic craft, presented by Firelight Media and American Masters. The lineup also includes short films made by student filmmakers in Big Sky Film Institute youth education programs and the Montana State University MFA in Science & Natural History Filmmaking. 

The Big Sky DocShop will run February 20-24, a five-day filmmaker’s forum that includes workshops, panels and professional development sessions, culminating with the Big Sky Pitch for works-in-progress. The 2023 conference will focus on a theme of Documentary 101: An Education, exploring the evolution and advancement of documentary film practice and ethics while reexamining foundational knowledge of the nonfiction medium. Sessions will include a master class with retrospective artist Penny Lane and panels with filmmakers and representatives from The New Yorker, POV, the National Association of Media Literacy and Education, New Day Films, Women Make Movies, The Redford Center, UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic, Documentary Producers Alliance, ITVS, Nia Tero and international filmmakers in USC’s American Film Showcase. 

The Big Sky Pitch will welcome eight filmmaking teams to pitch documentary feature works-in-progress to a panel of funders and commissioning editors including representatives from XTR, Disney Original Documentaries, Bright West Entertainment, SFFILM and ITVS. The IF/Then Shorts Pitch returns this year in partnership with The Redford Center, inviting five filmmaking teams pitching short films focused on connecting or re-connecting with nature. Big Sky will also welcome six Indigenous filmmakers as fellows in the 4th World Media Lab experience.

Passes are on sale now for the in-person and virtual festival. Tickets to individual events go on sale January 30. In-person screenings will take place at The Wilma, the Missoula Community Theater and the Zootown Arts Community Center, while virtual screenings can be accessed through the festival’s virtual cinema powered by Eventive. Explore the festival website for more information on the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival hybrid exhibition and festival events:

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